US and EU condemn Palestinian President's comments about Jews

Mahmoud Abbas has a history of making anti-Semitic comments

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a press conference in Turkey in July. AFP
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The US and the EU on Thursday criticised remarks that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made in recent weeks about the persecution of Jews during the Second World War.

During a Fatah meeting in August, Mr Abbas said Jews had been made a target in Nazi Germany because of their “social role” rather than their religion.

“This has been explained by many Jewish authors. When they said that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hates the Jews because they were Jews, no,” Mr Abbas said during the meeting, the video of which recently surfaced online.

“It was clearly explained that they fought [the Jews] because of their social role and not their religion."

Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, called for an immediate apology for the “hateful” remarks.

“The speech maligned the Jewish people, distorted the Holocaust and misrepresented the tragic exodus of Jews from Arab countries,” Ms Lipstadt said on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr Abbas has a long history of making anti-Semitic comments, including in his doctoral dissertation and subsequent 1984 book.

The EU also condemned the remarks, saying they contained “false and grossly misleading remarks about Jews and anti-Semitism”.

“Such historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no one’s interests," EU officials said in a statement.

“They play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated for."

The comments surfaced at a time when US diplomats have been engaging with Palestinian leaders in an effort to help establish relationships between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has long maintained it will not pursue normalisation with Israel until progress towards peace with the Palestinians is achieved.

In Israel, Mr Abbas's comments were met with outrage.

“This is the true face of Palestinian 'leadership',” said Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the UN.

"There must be zero tolerance for Palestinian incitement and terror.”

Late on Thursday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she had revoked an award, known as the Grand Vermeil, awarded to Mr Abbas in 2015.

She described his comments as “contrary to our universal values and to the historic truth of the Shoah", referring to another term used for the Holocaust.

“I condemn your words with the greatest firmness - no cause can justify revisionism and negationism,” she said in a letter to Mr Abbas.

"As you know, the Shoah is part of the history of Paris. In our city, during the Second World War, tens of thousands of children, women and men of the Jewish faith were rounded up, deported and exterminated in death camps.”

Despite tension, Ms Hidalgo said that the city of Paris would remain a partner of the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Jericho and Jenin.

Updated: September 08, 2023, 3:19 PM